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On the Heroism of Mortals
Book Review by Ellie May , October 2012
In this quirky collection of short stories, Allan Cameron encapsulates radical ideas and challenging parts of theory in a very logical and often beautiful way. At first you are struck by the very personal and frank tone of the collection. Readers find themselves immersed in closely observed stories of heartbreak, art, anti-capitalism, history and politics.
One short story, Bearing Up Life's Burdens Merrily, begins with the narrator throwing their used tea bag towards the bin, but missing with the bag splattering all over the floor. It's these almost banal details that make many of the stories interesting to read. In the same story the narrator sets off on a surreal adventure by taking his sofa on the local bus. When the bus driver protests, the narrator declares, "If this were a free country, then its citizens would be allowed to take their sofas wherever they want: museums, ancient castles, cathedrals, universities, football pitches - almost anywhere one would like to enjoy the pleasures of a comfortable seat and the occasional snooze."
But many of the stories address more directly revolutionary change and historic events. The Hat really makes for compulsive reading as it lays out a story of extraordinary human kindness during 1930s Europe. By the end of the chapter you feel totally inspired by one act of bravery and altruism that saved the life of a Polish Jew on the run. Some of the most fundamental questions of human nature are also brought to the fore throughout.
Living With The Polish Count is set in revolutionary Russia and is reminiscent of Alexandra Kollontai's Love of Worker Bees. It explores the difficulties and contradictions in love and relationships in a time of social and political upheaval. The narrator's former partner is an aristocrat who has joined the revolution, but finds within the Red Army that not all have given up their past.
A red thread has been sewn throughout each story, a journey through radical ideas, communist history and humanity's kindness. Because the stories are short - and perhaps also for effect - this book asks more questions than it answers. It leaves the reader pondering. The collection makes for addictive reading. Some are comical, others more serious, but there is something for every mood and every reader. These stories are of real life, of the tiny details that make up the whole. Endlessly inventive, Cameron has a number of novels that are critically acclaimed, but it is this eclectic collection that shows his true wit, warmth and complexity as a writer.
On The Heroism of Mortals is published by Vagabond Voices, £8.95
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